Chula Vista High School alumna Mary Castillo talks paranormal activity and her latest novel, "Lost in the Light"
Your seventh (and latest) novel, Lost in the Light, is a paranormal crime drama. How did you end up here?
I feel like I’ve been working toward the paranormal since my second novel, In Between Men. I love novels that tell great stories with romance, mystery, drama, and a tragedy or two. Lost in the Light is the book I’ve always wanted to write but was too afraid to! I didn’t think I had the chops, so to speak, to attempt a novel of that scope. But with each book I realized I could write deeper emotional journeys and darker characters. Writing Lost was my most enjoyable experience thus far.
It’s also your second novel set in SD.
The beautiful Edwardian mansions in National City play one of the most important roles in the book. There are pivotal scenes at the US Grant, the Santa Fe Depot, and La Vista Memorial Park—where I used to ride my bike as a kid. And while writing Lost in the Light, I discovered Halcyon Tea in South Park, so I had the main character, Dori, enjoy a cup there.
When did your family first settle in National City?
My great-grandmother and her brother arrived in 1925. They moved here with their grandmother after she learned there was work with the Santa Fe Railroad.
Growing up, where did you hang out?
Napoleone’s for pizza. Niederfrank’s for ice cream. When I was in middle school, I rode the city bus to the old National City Public Library and haunted the stacks. It was my second home.
You say you lived in a real haunted house from the time you were born until you left to attend USC. What was that like?
Having a ghost in the house is like living with an eccentric aunt who comes and goes whenever she pleases. Doors opened and closed. Sometimes, a voice called us from the hallway. One night, my dad woke up to see a lady standing at the foot of his and my mom’s bed!
Why was the house haunted?
Our ghost was a woman who overdosed in the master bedroom a few months after her husband died of a heart attack. When I was three, I told my mom about my invisible friend—a nice lady named Mary who had a daughter named Mary Ann. This creeped her out because I corroborated the names of the previous residents, even though she never told me what had happened.
Your parents still live in the house?
They do, and there’s still supernatural activity. But for them, it’s nothing out of the ordinary.
You say you committed to writing on February 10, 1994. You remember the exact day?
I was 20 years old and flunking chemistry at USC. My plan was to become a doctor, make a ton of money, and then retire to write novels. Due to nearly failing and losing financial aid, my plan wasn’t working. On that particular day, I was in a gift store in Sedona, Arizona, where I found a Pueblo storyteller figurine. In that moment, I decided to be a writer and that is all I have ever done since. The figurine still sits on my desk.
Any other books in the works?
I’m renovating a novel that I’ve been working on for the past five years, The Ballad of Aracely Calderon. This story has seen its share of revisions and rejections! But I’m getting bolder and braver. By summer 2013, it will finally see the light of day.
Download Mary Castillo’s seventh book, Lost in the Light, on Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo, GooglePlay, iTunes, and SmashWords.